Top 10 Leadership Mistakes to Avoid At All Costs

"A man must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to profit from them, and strong enough to correct them." ~John C. Maxwell

"I've learned that mistakes can often be as good a teacher as success." ~Jack Welch

Many leaders, for a variety of reason, are blind to some of the faults in their leadership. Maybe they weren’t trained, maybe their mentor demonstrated the same faults, and maybe the organization even rewards the behavior. The problem with not addressing these leadership mistakes is that you are handicapping the productivity of your team, your own development and ultimately your career trajectory.

Below are 10 of the most common leadership mistakes you might find yourself a bit “blind” to. Shedding some light on them will hopefully ensure that you can start addressing them.

Not understanding your role – One of the first places leaders fail is … well … not being a leader. You are most effective when you work THROUGH your people and enhance each team member’s performance, not when you roll up your sleeves and make an individual contribution. Focus on getting the most out of your team, not getting the most out of yourself.

Not listening to your employees – Your team should be your primary source of feedback on what is working and what isn’t in the operation, with the customer, and with their own performance. Many leaders focus more on getting their point across to their team instead of trying to gain a better understanding of the issue through their team. If you aren’t listening twice as much as you are talking you are missing out on essential information and ideas, and without the right information and ideas, you can’t lead.

Not setting goals – You’re the captain of your ship, but if you don’t have a destination for your vessel you can’t ensure you get to where you want to be. Goal setting on an organizational, staff and personal level creates the map for all of your achievements and helps focus your efforts on what is important. With all of distractions and competing priorities a leader is beset with, a goal helps you decide what is important and what isn’t.

Resisting change – Change is one of the most difficult things for a leader to manage because it takes time, effort, patience, perseverance, planning, and a tolerance for risk. The point is, you’re a leader, and leaders are supposed to make things better. If you were meant to just maintain the status quo, you’d be called a “steward” or a “caretaker”. It may be difficult to come up with the idea and plan, convince your boss and team, put it into place, and then have some of your changes fail to get results. But that’s what you are there for and great leaders are measured by the improvements they make, not by what they keep in place.

Lack of accountability – Building trust is essential for developing high performing teams. One of the cornerstones of trust is accountability. That goes for your team members and it goes for you. If someone in your area is assigned a task and says they are going to do something, it is imperative that every effort is put into seeing it to satisfactory completion. Ensuring that expectation is by your team is something that leaders should regularly be monitoring. With that said, too many leaders hold their team accountable, but give themselves a pass. You need to set the example and hold yourself to the highest standard possible, doing so actually makes it easier to hold everyone else accountable.

Failing to praise – Leaders are problem solvers who are always on the hunt for the next problem they can fix. This focus on the bad can leave you in a place where you don’t recognize the good as easily. Praise and recognition are almost always at the top of any survey of what employees want to see from their leaders and what motivates them to do a better job. It is as simple as saying “thank you” and “good job” when things are completed, and goes a long way towards creating a positive culture.

Micromanaging – The development of your team is one of your most important duties as a leader, and that can’t happen when you are over their shoulder telling them every little step they need to take. To unlock your team’s potential, you need to empower them to take responsibility, risks, and to make mistakes. Your role is to provide the structure and safety net to ensure learning is taking place and the tasks are being completed satisfactory.

Hiring poorly – Who you bring into your team will have a huge effect on what your team can accomplish. Most leaders understand this, but almost no leader has the extra time in their schedule to do hiring right, which leads to the whole process being rushed and you “settling” for a candidate that “will do OK.” You don’t want “OK”, your team doesn’t want to work alongside “OK”, and “OK” hires often are far more trouble than they are worth. If you want to hold your team to high standards, make sure you are adding exceptional people to your team that can meet and exceed those standards. Doing less is just making everyone work harder.

Not making work fun – Hey, the workplace doesn’t need to be a playground or a comedy club, but leaders needs to make it fun. People spend most of their waking lives at work and to get the best effort out of them it needs to be enjoyable. Study after study shows the positive effects on productivity in the workplace when employees enjoy coming to work. It unlocks creativity, provides more energy and fosters collaboration. Dress down days, holiday parties, dress-up days, pot-lucks, etc., etc. are all things that good workplaces do to bring this out. If you don’t have any ideas, you can always “google” it.

Not forgiving yourself when you make a mistake – Leaders are human, and they are rarely given a roadmap for success as a leader. For that reason, you are often required to learn from your mistakes. Your path to success will likely be littered with failures. It’s what you do with these failures, how you pick yourself back up again and learn from them, that will shape the rest of your career. Every great leader has made every one of the above mistakes, the key is that they learned their lesson.



15 Traits of Perfect Employees

"One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary people. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary person." ~Elbert Hubbard

"You don't get paid for the hour. You get paid for the value you bring to the hour." ~ J.Rohn

Many times we know that we want to strive for something, but we aren’t exactly clear on how we are going to get there. “Excellence” is a classic example of a goal that is somewhat … well … vague. So when we start talking about being an excellent or ideal employee, or having ideal employees, what exactly do we mean?

It turns out we mean a lot of things, which probably shouldn’t come as a surprise. As the workplace has become more complicated, the demands on the employee have increased. This has raised the value (and rarity) of employees who can thrive in this environment. So whether you are a leader or a front line employee on the sales floor, what traits do you need to have or cultivate to take your career to the next level? Start with the below:

Action Oriented – Nothing is accomplished without action. This seems fairly obvious, but it’s easy to fool yourself into thinking you are being hyper-constructive when you are thinking, planning, preparing, waiting for more information and other “paralysis by analysis” components. Ideal employees always have a bias towards acting on information. Yes, they gather it and analyze it, but they are also quick to put it to work.

Natural Learner – Intelligence isn’t enough anymore. The world is changing quickly and ideal employees demonstrate the ability to learn a variety of subjects. This ability to learn gives them greater flexibility in gaining skillsets and changing duties to adapt to needs as they arise.

Ambitious – Having an employee who meets expectations is all well and good, but what you are really looking for is an employee with the drive to reach for lofty personal and professional goals. It is these goals that maintain their focus on work and lead to exceeding expectations, not just meeting them. Every boss cherishes that employee who surprises them with how they go above and beyond what others expected to be done.

Autonomous – It’s always best to be working with self-motivated individuals. It isn’t just that they are given a task and run with it, it’s that they take more ownership over all facets of their work. This means that they come up with innovations and ideas, they do the quality assurance work and they support themselves. This also frees their boss to focus his/her attention on other matters.

Positive – Studies have shown that people who have positive outlooks are more productive and receive more promotions than their negative counterparts. The ability to enthusiastically tackle new endeavors and to see potential instead of calamity is a hallmark of great leadership and a great employee. To be able to change, innovate and improve, you must be able to take risks. Negative people see the downside in the situation and resist action, positive people on the other hand see the potential and charge forward.

Confident – They may not know how they are going to do a task, they may not be sure it can be done, but they do know that they will find a way if it can be done. Confident individuals accept more challenges which improves their skillsets and experience. They also move quicker through the decision making process which speeds up all of their work.

Honest – When you ask somebody a question, you expect the truth. If you have to go through another round of questioning to prove they are being truthful you are wasting time. Also, from a leadership perspective, if you can’t get honest information you aren’t getting the right information, and that increases the likelihood of a poor decision.

Detail Oriented – Ideal employees don’t get lost in the details, but they understand that details make up the foundation of larger things. Getting the details right is what separates OK products and services from great products and services.

Humble – Humility opens you up to the idea that you don’t have all of the answers, you might make mistakes, and that everyone has a contribution to make in the organization. These ideas help you create more dialogue so that your information is better, learn from your mistakes to increase your growth, and foster a team environment where the organization leverages everyone’s strengths.

Hard Working – It goes without saying that an ideal employee works hard, but I figured the list wouldn’t be complete without it. Sometimes employees need to give that little “extra” to meet the needs of the organization. Ideal employees step up when needed and work as hard as possible to meet the goals set for them.

Proactive – If you can deal with things ahead of time you free up time and resources later. Great employees are always looking ahead to discover opportunities or to spot problems on the horizon. They then take action on these two things right away to maximize their positive impact and minimize their negative impact.

Team player – An ideal employee in the job market today must have the ability to magnify value on a team. The essence of teamwork is an increase in productivity for everyone involved. 2+2+2=7 for example. If you detract from the value of the group, then you are not only not an ideal employee, but likely to not be an employee much longer.

Creative – We aren’t talking about artistic ability here; we are talking about creative problem solving. A great employee will find creative solutions to customer issues, operational problems, changes, opportunities and other issues the organization faces. As the world gets more complicated, the solutions unfortunately get more complicated as well which requires a more creative approach.

Excellent Communicator– The ability to clearly communicate in not only verbal, but in the written form as well, is a trait any ideal employee should possess. It isn’t just being able to clearly explain your point or idea, it’s also about being able to open dialogue and bring parties together.

Empathy – A great employee understands other co-workers, customers and their boss on an emotional level. Through this understanding of their feelings they can tailor their communication, recognize issues that arise, and deal with the human element of the organization.

While very few of us can claim to have all of these listed traits in our repertoire, the list does clearly what we should be working towards. Ideal employees are few and far between, but their value is becoming greater and greater as the organizational environments we all work in evolve.



Why The Best Leaders Aren't Afraid to Laugh

"There is little success where there is little laughter." ~Andrew Carnegie

“A well-developed sense of humor is the pole that adds balance to your steps as you walk the tightrope of life.” ~William Arthur Ward

In your day to day work life you are constantly beset by troubles and challenges. If you are not too careful your job becomes serious at best, and tedious at worst. It is for this reason that every great leader has the ability to use humor at correct moments to get more out of their team. This can come to pass by laughing at your own mistakes, making light of the troubles you face, or simply sharing humorous stories from the weekend.

As a leader you have the ability and responsibility to shape your department and organization at any time. I can think of no better time to insert humor than when things get stressful, but it is welcome by your team at any time. And beyond blowing off steam, there are a number of very constructive reasons to let a little humor into your department:

  • Approachability – By engaging with your staff in a lighthearted way, you increase your approachability which is necessary for you to be up to date on challenges and successes in the department.
  • Creativity – Humor breaks up the monotony and gets our minds out of the rut we find ourselves in when doing our daily tasks. It is these breaks in thinking that often lead to new ideas and solutions.
  • Reduces Stress – It’s hard to be stressed out when you’re laughing, and stress in the workplace is no good for morale, health or teamwork.
  • Increases Productivity – If you’re having fun at work, your tasks tend to flow quicker and with more precision. As a leader, you’re also apt to have less turnover if your staff is enjoying themselves.

One thing that I have instituted recently in an effort to insert a little humor into the day is a daily joke (a clean joke) that I e-mail to the staff in the middle of the day. I think sending it in the middle of the day is the best way to get the most out of the points listed above. This direct approach works well for my team, for others it may be just as much about displaying a humorous demeanor at the right time.

Regardless of the approach you take, I hope you will seriously consider the importance of at least a little laughter in the workplace, I know you’ll find it beneficial.



7 Reasons Jerks Succeed and What You Can Learn From Them

“Nice guys finish last.” ~Leo Durocher

"Winners have simply formed the habit of doing things losers don't like to do." ~Albert Gray

Does winning trump everything? Including some of the basic tenets of leadership, like collaboration, respect, and thinking long-term? It’s a fair question, as history is riddled with people who accomplished amazing things and are revered and respected for those things, but were complete jerks.

But why is it that being “bad” can be such a successful technique for these people? And what can leaders learn from it to gain the benefits, without being a jerk about it? Turns out that a jerk's nature has some positive traits, even if they aren’t applied in a particularly “nice” way:

Demand excellence – Probably the best illustration of a good trait gone bad. Any great leader demands excellence from their team, but they get to excellence by nurturing it, investing their time into it, and becoming partners in it. It’s a time consuming and effort intensive process that doesn’t always get to where you want it to right away, which is why many good leaders struggle with it.

A jerk may achieve that excellence from their employees, but they focus on getting it right now! To heck with the long term consequences. They simply demand excellence and use fear as the primary weapon to obtain it. This fear can come in the form of threats, uncomfortable angry outbursts, and eventually simply the implication that either could occur if you fail. They give little mind to the consequences of getting there; what procedures need to be broken, what overtime needs to be worked, or what other projects need to get pushed aside. The result may be excellent output, but with an undermining of the foundation of the organization.

Confidence –  Confidence is a requirement of great leadership. You must be self-assured in your ideas and plans to be able to see them put into place and brought to fruition. It also takes confidence to be a part of the feedback loop by being willing to give your opinion.

Jerks are plenty confident, but it manifests itself in being a bully. They are assertive in the extreme and almost always give their opinions on things, which can seem to the uninformed as if they have a lot of ideas. And in many cases they will consider their own ideas to all be “great” and will use this assertiveness and confidence to mask otherwise poor results in a veneer of excellence. Have you ever been in a room with someone who brags about results that aren’t that “brag-worthy?" That’s what a jerk does with their results. Constantly.

Risk tolerance – Leaders quickly realize that almost anything worthwhile that they want to do will require some risk. The calculation and minimizing of that risk is a process that must be balanced against taking action. Many times leaders will be too risk averse or not take action quick enough, and sell their potential short.

Jerks have no problem taking risks. Yes, they are confident, but also because they have a ready response if the risk blows up in their face: Blame and Excuses (usually both, just for good measure). They will throw their team or another department under the bus as quickly as possible and project the knowledge gained from hindsight to back that up. This practice often makes their leadership far too risky and they jeopardize much more of the organization.

Competitive and ambitious – Competition helps to focus our efforts and win as a team. Ambition is a cousin of competition and helps us to raise our goals and to become our best selves. What people realize as they keep making steps up the career ladder is that their individual achievement relies increasingly on getting the best out of others. Many times leaders will not stoke the fires of competition and ambition out of this selflessness.

Jerks never look too much past themselves. Their work is self-serving and self-obsessed. They are unbelievably competitive and ambitious, but they don’t play fair and they don’t play nice. This might work for a while, but this is also why many stall at certain points on the career ladder as their predisposition to themselves inhibits their progress. Yes, there are plenty of jerks who through intelligence and/or scheming rise higher, but their inability to serve their team and others almost always comes out.

Stubborn and pushy – All leaders need to fight for their ideas and beliefs. Resource constraints in almost all organization require that some ideas get left behind while others are pursued. The thing is, great ideas don’t always look that great when they are first put on paper. It takes a leader with some stubbornness to fight for their idea and see that it gets played out.

Jerks tend to win this game simply through numbers. They may not have as many great ideas as their peers, but MORE of their ideas get pursued because of their dogged determination and disregard for the value of other people’s ideas. If you’re allowed to throw enough darts at the board, you’re bound to get a bullseye eventually. And these people always make sure they get as many chances as they possibly can.

Focus on strengths – Yes, you need to address your weaknesses so that they do not hinder your progress any more than necessary. But great leaders play to their strengths so that they can accomplish as much as possible. They acknowledge weakness so as to address it, but they rely on their strengths to get them through.

Jerks disregard their weaknesses and make every attempt to set the rules so that only their strengths will come into play. If it is a weakness, they simply shift the responsibility for that area to their team or to another department. And using all of their “tools” above, they often are able to. This leaves them with no weaknesses, only strengths, which helps them to exert their influence in the areas those strengths touch.

Great negotiators – Negotiating and compromising are always difficult in an organization. The complexities lie in the fact that almost no negotiation is a one time event. There will likely be more down the road, and you'll likely be working with the person continually. You must always try to strike that balance between you and your counterpart so that the long term needs are satisfied and you both walk away happy (or at least with an understanding).

Jerks look at each negotiation as its own instance with no regard for future relationships. They will serve their needs at the cost of the general good, which if their boss doesn’t have a wide enough vision of the organization will look like they obtained a victory. This is often the case, especially considering that their counterpart on the other side of the negotiation isn’t typically interested in discussing how they got the bad side of the deal.

The reason that jerks can be so successful is that they misuse these traits for self-serving and short-term gains. In most organizations their leaders are detached enough from the operation to where they will never see that downside, they only see the "success." And by the time they do see it, the jerk has positioned themselves as a person the boss can trust and they talk their way out of it.

While there isn't much you can do about any of that, what you can do is begin applying these traits in your own leadership in the way they were meant to be applied. If you're successful you'll find that your career trajectory will likely be higher than any of the jerks in your organization.


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10 Signs You're About To Burn Out (and how to fix it)

"If you don't like how things are, change it! You're not a tree." ~Jim Rohn

"If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging." ~Will Rogers

It’s going to happen to everyone multiple times in their careers, burn out. When you’re trying to get ahead and trying to accomplish as much as you possibly can, circumstance or your own ambition will occasionally tip you past the point of being able to juggle everything and keep some semblance of self. There isn’t anything wrong with getting burned out, the only thing wrong is if you don’t address it.

Since identifying a problem usually comes before actually addressing it, we will lead today with some of the indicators that you’re burned out. Because one of the symptoms is an impairment in mental faculties, it is likely that you may be unaware you’re burned out until well after the effects are felt in your productivity and by those around you.

So without further ado, the 10 most common signs of burnout are:

(what to do about these items can be found BELOW THIS LIST)

·         Exhaustion – The most common sign of burnout is simply having no energy. No energy at work, no energy at home, and a tough time waking up every morning. Regardless of the amount of coffee or Red Bull’s you drink, you just can’t find the ability to rally some energy.

·         Health issues – Beyond exhaustion, reaching the point of burnout can often result in headaches, high blood pressure, aches and pains, weight gain and an increased susceptibility to illness. Your body will let you know when something is wrong whether it is mental or physical.

·         Inability to focus – The mental aspect of burnout typically comes with an inability to focus and see things through to completion. This could come about from too many things going on at once or the physical strain. One of the clearest indicators is a desire to multi-task, but an inability to do so with tasks and duties you usually were able to.

·         Negativity – We all go through those days where we have “stinking thinking’” and find ourselves noticing everything that is going wrong. A day or two every once in a while is normal, days that stretch into weeks is indicative of a problem.

·         Lack of patience – Because you have no energy and because you have so much you need to do, you are far more likely to show impatience when you’re burnt out as opposed to under normal circumstances. This can show up with peers, subordinates, your boss or your customers. You can clue into this when you catch yourself being impatient with someone whom you rarely, if ever, are impatient with usually.

·         Cynicism – Since the burnt out person has lost some of the ability to control their own emotions and actions, it’s almost natural for that to manifest itself into feeling of helplessness, defeatism and assumed agendas. This is kicking negativity up another notch.

·         No satisfaction – Those things that used to give you a great sense of accomplishment and job satisfaction may not hold the same luster when you are worn down. The truly bad part about this symptom is that the sense of accomplishment is what often counteracts a feeling of burnout. When you lose the ability to get that satisfaction from the job it can start a downward spiral.

·         Lack of motivation – While you may have plenty on your plate, if you’re burned out you are likely not able to motivate yourself like you used to. Given all of the above factors it wouldn’t be surprising.

·         Inability to stop thinking about work – One of the more curious signals of being burned out is when you simply can’t stop thinking about work when you are away from the office. Whether it is because you have too much on your plate, aren’t able to focus and come to a decision, or you know your productivity is slipping, this symptom just exacerbates the issue.

·         Relationship strain – When you’re too busy, too negative and too obsessed you’ll likely take some of the attention away from your relationships. The big flashing warning sign is when you find yourself with a strain in your relationship with people you almost always get along with.

The fundamental issue with burnout is balance. You need a sense of balance between the personal and the professional, a balance between different projects at work, a balance between wins and losses, and a balance between the fun and mundane. When the scales tip too far to one side, that’s when the above symptoms start showing up. The below recommendations look to tackle that imbalance:

·         Disconnect – The number one way to stop burnout is to completely disconnect from the job, because one of the biggest causes of burnout is being connected to work 24/7. You need to have the ability to “recharge your batteries” and that is tough when work is constantly draining them. It could be a vacation, it could be time in the evenings and weekends you don’t check e-mail, or it could be an activity that forces you to disconnect like hiking where there is no cell reception or a massage. This method of dealing with burnout is perfect for righting the scales of the work/life balance.

·         Pay attention to your body – If you are finding yourself feeling exhausted, sick or experiencing any of the other maladies listed above there are three things you can do to help your body deal and recover from it. Sleep, exercise and focusing on your diet. Often we exacerbate burnout and exhaustion by doing the easy thing like picking up fast food, sitting on the couch and staying up to watch that next episode on Netflix. Take care of your body and it’ll help you stay sharp.

·         Schedule fun – Many times when we are feeling burnt out we take the fun things off our calendar so that we have more time to deal with the work issues. This is actually the exact opposite thing that you need to do. That hour spent laughing with friends or engaging in an exciting activity can make you twice as productive the next day and more than make up for itself. Also, when you’re in a rut you need to do something different and dramatic to get yourself out of it. Might as well make it something fun.

·         Schedule relaxation – And just as important as fun is relaxation. I used to go out to lunch every day, not because I never made myself lunch, but because it allowed me an hour away from the office to brainstorm, reset or just relax. Maybe it is a scheduled walk around the block, maybe it’s just stepping outside and getting some fresh air. Whatever it is that puts you at ease, leverage it regularly.

·         Prioritize – If you have too much on your plate, the best thing to do is to prioritize it so that if something slips, it’s not the most important thing. And the priorities don’t have to be just work related, it’s important to prioritize both work and personal things together. This is one of those things that can directly bring back balance in your life.

·         List of successes – One of the most motivating and empowering things is success. It’s a powerful force that can make everything seem better and easier. But when you are feeling the effects of burnout there are times when it will feel that nothing is going right. One of the ways to recharge your morale is to list out all of the successes you had over the last week. Now while it might be a bit difficult to start out with, it typically picks up speed as you get a few under your belt, and it is a great way to combat that “Stinking thinking.”

·         Give – One of the most satisfying things you can do is to give of your time and expertise. It can be on the job helping someone learn something new or just lending a hand. Or it can be a charitable act in your personal life. Giving to something outside of ourselves instills a sense of gratitude and is one of the more powerful ways that you can break the routine and break out of burnout.

·         Get organized – Feeling burnt out can make everything feel a little more chaotic. Sometimes the refreshment and reset that we need can come from reducing the clutter, both physically in the form of having an organized workspace and mentally in organizing what is on you plate. Even the simple act of writing down everything you need to do on a list is often extraordinarily valuable.

·         Find support and vent – When you have a problem you need to seek out help. That can be a professional career counselor, a therapist, your spouse, or just a friend. Sometimes you just need to give voice to your concerns and frustrations to release the pressure valve. Other times you will rely on an outsider’s opinion on what you need to do. Either way, the help that someone else can offer you can give you the support to lift yourself back up out of your burnout.

·         Re-evaluate goals – I intentionally put this down last to encourage you to start doing some of the other items on the list first. Burnout can be a terrible time to evaluate your goals because of the negativity most face. However, it is a powerful enough experience that it can expose some of our inner desires which does make it a good time to re-evaluate our goals. As you are coming out of your burnout, the thing that can often vault you forward is a fresh challenge. This is often the opportunity to turn the negative of burnout into a positive new direction.

You are going to get burned out at some point, it’s inevitable. Identifying it quickly and taking steps to address it can be a huge help in not only keeping your career and work on track, but helping you maintain a balance that keeps your personal life in order as well.

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9 Ways Micromanagers Ruin Organizations

"Leaders become great, not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others." -John Maxwell

"In the past a leader was a boss. Today leaders must be partners with their people. They no longer can lead based on positional power." ~Ken Blanchard

Fighting for control is one of the most common failings of leaders in today’s workplace. It isn’t that they aren’t supposed to be in control of their operation; they are. It’s that there is a difference between “control” and “controlling” and it is usually much easier (in a sense) to be controlling. Not making that distinction, and not making the right choice, can destroy their own effectiveness and the effectiveness of their team.

Below are the 9 ways in which a controlling boss undermines their organization’s effectiveness:

Not Utilizing the Talent – Every leader has an enormous amount of talent resources within their team. But if they are controlling all of the decisions, ideas, and process flows, there is no way to tap into those resources. Team members aren’t free to learn a new strength or to voice where they might be able to help. They are shut out of the process of working towards a goal/ Even if a team member is brave enough to voice their ideas and thoughts, they will likely not be given serious consideration or have their suggestion taken over by the boss which dissuades other team members from sharing in the future.

Lack of Delegation – Control is often at the heart of a lack of delegation. There is a difference between giving orders and delegating. Delegating has a certain freedom and ownership built into it for the team members. The empowering and productivity benefits of delegating to a staff are relatively non-existent in a controlling atmosphere. Yes, the leader may be giving lots of direction, but it tends to be precise, step-by-step direction that allows little freedom and requires the team member to come right back to you when complete. That doesn’t grow team members professionally at all.

Exhausting – Control isn’t as precise of a goal as many leaders think. There is always something else, another aspect, a level deeper that you can seek control. Part of the power of ceding that control to others is that you don’t get caught in that downward spiral where you spend your time increasingly influencing less and less important work. This never-ending search takes an enormous amount of mental and physical resources on a leader’s part. There’s a reason they have a staff and this is one of those reasons. If they allow themselves to continue seeking control at every turn, they’ll find themselves at a MUCH higher likelihood of making mistakes and burning out.  

Less Teamwork – Control is often the opposite of collaboration. If the leader isn’t modeling and teaching collaboration it is far less likely to be something that their team demonstrates. Team members won’t look for ways to work together to achieve the direction of the controlling boss, they will have been taught to wait to work together until the leader says they should. This lack of initiative will kill any teamwork in the organization.

More Roadblocks to Progress – A controlling boss requires EVERYTHING to run through them which slows or halts progress, or even basic operations, within the organization. A long line of people outside their door is usually a good indication that there is an issue. This is often the only issue that can “bring light” to the counterproductive behavior as more and more people in the organization run into the roadblock.

Impatience – Because they are so busy being in the middle of everything they don’t have the time to listen, to explain themselves, to think things through, or to wait for the fruits of their labor to bloom. This constant lack of time creates a tension in the office that can put everyone on edge.

Hyper-Critical – When a leader focuses on control, they tend to eliminate opinions. What this does is strip away another layer expression from the team and gives the leader an incentive to force their opinion further and further throughout the processes which leads to criticism over any deviation from the directive regardless of how non-specific that direction may have been.

Toxic Environment – With an environment that doesn’t encourage expression or empowerment and which does encourage rushed decisions and scapegoats to avoid the criticism, it is no wonder that a controlling boss fosters a toxic environment in the workplace. This environment further exacerbates all of the other ills, which leads to…

Finally: Turnover – When the leader is in control of everything, by definition the team member is not. People have an innate desire to have control over their own lives, and that extends into their work life as well. If the leader isn’t giving them some control over their work and their work environment, then they aren’t creating an atmosphere the team is comfortable in. Combine that with all of the above….and you won’t be keeping anyone on board very long at all.

For an employee stuck under a controlling boss, the options are usually limited. You can suggest regular updates instead of oversight or try to wriggle some flexibility in the process of achieving a clearly defined goal, but often the controlling boss doesn’t realize their error until it is too late and productivity has slipped. Even then they may feel that they are doing the right thing by maintaining a tightfisted grip on the operation. Because there is little professional growth potential under a controlling boss, it is often best to look for other opportunities with or without the organization to continue your career progression. 


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The Top 10 Ways to Make Your Employees Deliriously Happy

"If you're good to your staff when things are going well, they'll rally when times go bad." - Mary Kay Ash

"Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” ~Aristotle

Do you want more productivity out of your team? Then you need look no further than their happiness. Gretchen Spreitzer of the Harvard Business Review, in her article Creating Sustainable Performance, notes that happy employees are not only more productive, but more creative and better team players as well.

When you think about organizations that are truly excelling in their field, you likely can find that they are bending over backwards to make their team feel happy and appreciated. But it isn’t just at the organizational level. When you look at high performing teams within your own organization, would you classify those teams as being “happier” than most others?

These organizations and leaders have discovered the clear link between happiness and better productivity. So what do you need to do to bring out the happiness in your team and reap the rewards? Well, it doesn’t start with money, it starts at a much deeper level of satisfaction. Here are the 10 most impactful ways to bring out the happiness in your team:

Treat them better than your customers – If you want to take care of the customer, take care of the people that take care of the customer. And it doesn’t usually take a complicated effort. First of all, just talk with them and find out about them as a person. Where did they grow up, what hobbies do they have, what motivates them about the job, how do they think the organization can approve? To sell to your customer you need to understand who they are, so why not do the same with your team? And before you say that you already know your team, can you answer this one question which is probably more important to them than anything, “How many children does each of your employees have?”

Once you get to know your team better, you’ll be better equipped to treat them well regardless of what situation arises.

Focus on how important their work is – One of the reasons that companies like Google, Facebook and Apple have grandiose Mission Statements like “Make the world more open and connected” is that it lights the fire of passion in their employees. Your team wants to do important work. Great leaders let their teams know just how critical their work is to the organization. If you’re in a department where this might seem difficult, there is another way to instill a sense of importance: Community service.

The act of giving and serving has enormous value in how people gauge their satisfaction with activities. If you can tie this feeling of serving with co-workers to work itself, then you’ve attached an importance to the job that wasn’t there before.

Give them ownership – Great employees crave ownership over their work. It gives them satisfaction of a job well done and forms their own self-identity about the work that they do. If you don’t empower an employee to do their job, you’ve robbed them of any chance to form this identity. This one thing goes a long way towards the productivity increases that happy employees produce. If you own your job, you want to do good at it because it is a reflection on you.

Treat them like adults – This may seem kind of rudimentary, but it affects some tough issues like work-life balance, trust, and understanding their motivation. Adults take care of their responsibilities, and so do great employees. Understanding that your team wants to do a good job, and backing up that understanding by trusting them to make the right decisions isn’t naïve, it builds trust. When you trust that they will make the right decisions it makes so many other issues easier for you to deal with. Do you let them leave early on Thursdays to go see their kid’s baseball game, or take a two hour lunch so they can go to the Dentist? Of course you do, because you trust that they will get the work done.

Now one thing to mention is that there will be times they come up short in their work. In these cases, STILL treat them like an adult and have a discussion about what happened, how to fix it, and what the expectations are going forward. DO NOT punish them, children get punished, adults discuss things reasonably.

Be OK with the right mistakes – Nobody likes to make mistakes. Fear of making a mistake is one of the biggest dis-satisfiers in the workplace and stifles innovation. The “right” mistakes are ones that aren’t negligent and that you learn from (and don’t repeat). Free your team to take risks and learn and you’ll see them develop much quicker.

Give them the big picture – People want to know what is going on with the direction of the organization. They just do. Part of it is simple curiosity and another part is vanity of being “in the know”. Sharing some big picture things about where the organization is headed can also make them feel more secure in their job since it eliminates some unknowns (even if it isn’t an entirely rosy picture) and is something that increases their feeling of value since you trusted them with the information and were willing to spend the time sharing it.

Care about their career – Do you know where each member of your team wants to be professionally in the next 1-2 years? If not, then you are missing an opportunity to drive motivation and happiness through your department. Happy people are fulfilled, and when we talk about fulfillment at work, career growth is a huge portion of that. Many members of your team will be striving for a promotion. Others are happy where they are, but would like to learn or at least be exposed to some new things. You don’t need to hand out promotions to everyone, you just need to set an environment where they are always learning with a purpose and a goal. A plan to teach and develop new skills amongst your team will not only lead to a better skilled workforce, but a happier one as well.  

Recognition – Is it fun to toil away on a project and not have anyone notice? Is it fun to have your best sales month of the year and have it treated like any other month? Does that sound like a recipe for happiness? Of course not. Recognition of success and effort is one of the keys to leadership and has an enormous impact on how happy your team will be. Great leaders look for any opportunity to celebrate a success because they believe in the saying by Tom Peters, “Celebrate what you want to see more of.” They celebrate group success, individual success, and progress and learning as well. People want to know that you noticed the good things that they’ve done, so recognize them when it occurs.

Have fun – Everyone spends an awful lot of time at work. It’s important to break up the day to day routine with some fun from time to time. It could be anything from celebrating birthdays or holidays, hosting a pot-luck, random dress down days, or just a fun activity on a Friday afternoon. Making the association between fun and work helps ease stress and help people get through difficult tasks. It has also been shown that breaking up a day with a fun activity spurs creativity as well. So if you’re lacking some innovation, maybe it’s time to find a reason to throw a party.

Have goals – People like to have something to strive towards. Do you ever play games where there isn’t a means of tracking progress, keeping score, or another method of determining who is winning? Of course not, and you shouldn’t set up your department without goals either. The most effective have both public team goals and private personal goals for each of their staff members. Working towards something gives meaning to even mundane tasks as they can be recognized as a necessary means to an end.

Striving to make your team happier has little to no downside for a leader. Many of the principles listed above directly affect productivity and the others support it. So if you found that you may have had a few “holes” in the above recommendation, then look to address one of them this week, with another following the week after, and so on. And don’t forget; having a happy team helps the leader be happy as well.

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10 Ways To Get Yourself Promoted

"Big jobs usually go to the person who proves their ability to outgrow small ones." ~Theodore Roosevelt

"Successful leaders see the opportunities in every difficulty rather than the difficulty in every opportunity." ~Reed Markham

How is it exactly that some people seem to get promotion after promotion, while others who seem to show plenty of potential just stay right where they are? It’s because there are tactics that successful people use on the job to ensure they are in the discussion of candidates and are ultimately selected.

One method that is often talked about in working towards that next promotion is to ask your boss what they are looking for in a candidate for promotion. This sounds like rock-solid advice, but the problem is that bosses almost never give a constructive answer to this question. They say things like, “Just make sure you make your numbers and give 110%.” What successful people do is answer that question for their boss and take action on those things. They don’t work haphazardly on being the best at things, they work on being the best at the things that matter.

If you are able to work these tactics into your routine on the job, you too could find yourself in the crowd that keeps getting looked at to rise through the ranks.

Worry about what your boss worries about – Have you ever taken work to your boss only to have them ask about something else? That’s the opposite of what we’re looking for here. Aligning your priorities with your boss’s priorities ensures that you’re not only doing what they want, but shows that you know how to set the right priorities yourself which is critical in any leadership position. While your boss may not clearly relay what their priorities are, successful people pay attention to what their boss talks about and focuses on, and over time are able to fill in the blanks and align their actions accordingly.

Always be acquiring new skills – If you’re not learning you’re dying in your career. People who get promoted show their value not only in the skills required to do their job, but in a variety of skills outside the scope of their current job. Surprising your boss with knowledge you have reassures them that you have the ability to learn which is key to success in any position. If you’re able to match some of those skills to the job you are looking for, then all the better. You can pick up skills anywhere you like in the organization simply by paying attention to how other people do their job, whether that’s Marketing, I.T., Finance or any other. Simply pay attention and ask questions, most people don’t mind a break in the day to walk you through some of the basics (especially if you entice them with the idea you might be able to do it yourself next time and save them work). Other skills like Excel, PowerPoint or other systems your organization uses can almost always be supplemented with online learning, or even a course that your organization covers.

Ask to help – Those who get promoted are a resource for their boss. If you want experience in doing “next level” work, why not ask to help with some. Your boss likely has tasks that match with your skillsets on some level and it gives you even more exposure to them and their work. Just ask your boss, and then ask them a few more times so they know you’re serious.

Self-promotion – Successful people don’t wait for things to just “happen”, they take action to make things happen. The first thing you want to do is to let your boss know that you are interested. This is where asking your boss that question, “What are you looking for in a candidate for promotion?” serves you as it puts them on notice that you are interested. The other thing you want to do is to publicize your successes. I’m not talking about bragging; I’m talking about making your boss aware of “progress” that is being made in the department. There are dozens of ways to ensure your successes are brought to the attention of others without being seeming to be out of line. Find some.

Have solutions to problems – You will come across problems, you will make mistakes, but successful people have solutions, they don’t bring their problems to their boss without an idea of how to solve them. If you want a promotion you need to learn to be responsible for finding solutions to problems that arise. That’s what a leader is largely responsible for. While you don’t want to wait to bring issues to the attention of your boss, spending at least a little time thinking about possible solutions before stepping into their office is often all it takes. And if you can’t come up with one you like, you can always present the solutions to your boss for consideration. That is the next best thing.

Quantify results – One thing that all leaders have in common is that they hear a lot of “fluff” about how good things are all of the time, but they know that talk is cheap. What you need to do is to put some numbers behind your accomplishments to give them substance. The ability to put together a report to track progress changes your talk into reality. One of the keys to doing this is to think about it as early in the process as possible. Oftentimes if you wait until the project is over, it’s too late to be able to measure the effect.

Act as if you’re already there – The most common application of this principle is to dress for the position you want to have, not the position you currently have. But it goes much further than that, you need to carry yourself like a leader. That means you have a positive and constructive attitude, you don’t get caught up in the drama of other coworkers, and you know what is appropriate in the workplace and what is not. If you need examples, just look to the leadership of your organization. While they might individually still have some faults, collectively you can piece together what you need to do.

Create your path – Here’s a secret: many of the people who are promoted, are promoted into positions that didn’t exist before. The way that they accomplished this is by creating and adding value to their current position to the point that it warranted a redefinition. They volunteer to take on extra duties, they come up with innovations and bring them to life, and they use their strengths in new ways to help the organization. The next time a new project comes up, volunteer to take it on even if it doesn’t fall exactly in your area of responsibility.

Work hard AND smart – Perhaps the most obvious tactic for promotion, but one that always bears mentioning as there are no shortcuts. It isn’t just about working hard or working smart, you need to do both. You want to emulate the work habits of those who are already successful in your organization. That means that you put in the hours to get the work done, but you also prioritize important tasks over small ones, and that you are always looking for ways to improve processes and procedures so that even more work gets done.

Create a plan – Having a goal is great, but what you really need is to create a plan to get there. Successful people create action steps that bridge where they are with where they want to be. Utilizing these tactics is fine, but coordinating how you use them to reach the promotion you are looking for can separate success from failure:

·         Where are you? Every map has a starting place, and you need to be clear on where you are starting before you start taking “lefts and rights” toward your destination.

·         Why are you there? What skills do you have in your “toolkit?” In other words, what strengths do you have that got you to where you are?

·         Where do you want to be? Just like being clear on where you start, you need to be crystal clear on where you are going. “Getting promoted” isn’t specific enough, you need to be clear on exactly which position you are shooting for so that you can figure out what traits a successful person in that position has and align your strengths, address any weaknesses and start filling the gaps.

·         How do you get there? Not all skills are created equal and not all of these tactics are going to be weighted equally in you reaching your goal. You need to clearly lay out the priorities of what you are going to do and going to work on to get the promotion. Actions with deadlines will be the key things to come out of this exercise and the stepping stones to the next level in your career.

People who get promoted do so through willful action. If you are able to put these tactics in place alongside already excellent work performance you will be well on your way to climbing the organizational ladder.



10 Simple Ways to Bring Out The Best In Your Employees

"A good objective of leadership is to help those who are doing poorly to do well and those who are doing well to do even better." ~Jim Rohn

"The great leaders are like the best conductors - they reach beyond the notes to reach the magic in the players." ~Blaine Lee

Great leaders don’t become great through their individual achievement. They get that way by working through their team and nurturing their talent.  If you want to make a HUGE impact in your organization, you can’t do it yourself. But if you build up your team and leverage their abilities, together you can move mountains.

The wonderful thing is that the traits that great leaders use to bring out the best in their team aren’t particular complicated or unfamiliar, they are just consistently applied on a personal level:

Recognition – Great leaders know that they need to reward what they want to see more of. People want to be successful and want to be a part of winning teams, but that isn’t enough to truly bring out their best, for that employees want their hard work and contributions recognized. Providing recognition for successes both publicly and privately on an individual basis helps to build the expectation of success amongst everyone.

Focus on strengths – Yes, you want to minimize weaknesses, but leveraging your team’s strengths should be the first priority. When everyone on the team is working from a position of strength the team can move forward with greatest ease. If you think about sports teams, players are almost always working in a way that maximizes their strength. They don’t neglect or avoid their weaknesses, but they play to what they are best at. When employees work from positions of strength it builds their confidence which will help them act quicker, more decisively and with an eye towards opportunities.

Empathy – Great leaders understand their employees better than average and poor leaders. This helps them customize coaching and instruction, recognize issues quickly, and see opportunities for growth. This understanding is always built over time spent communicating with the team and paying attention when things are occurring. Since great leaders naturally spend a lot of time communicating with their team, this trait comes much easier than for others.

Empowerment – If you want to build up your team you need to empower them to do more on their own. Pushing them to learn and take responsibility for increasingly important tasks is central to getting the best out of them. This requires the leader to have a greater tolerance for mistakes and failures, and a willingness to accept those short term losses for the long term gains of having more experienced and skilled employees.

Foster trust – Trust is a requirement for highly-effective teams, but it is also an extraordinarily powerful tool on an individual basis. Do you remember the feeling of when someone trusted you with something really important? Do you remember the sense of pride you felt? Do you remember how focused you were on responsibly handling what you were entrusted with? Would you say that you were at your best with whatever it was? Great leaders recognize this and therefore demonstrate trust and emulate trust as often as possible.

Give – You get what you give. Great leaders pour into their team by tirelessly working for them, modelling honesty, and providing them tools and training. When they do that they get more effort from their team, they get honest and straightforward feedback and they get heartfelt application of new skills in return. In short, they get hardworking, honest and skilled employees in return.

Explain things clearly – If you want the best, you are going to need to clearly explain what your goal is in a way that your employees can understand and work towards. Your team can’t be at their best if they don’t understand what you are asking. Going into the details is also something that develops the team by giving them more insight into what you view as important and also shows that you value them enough to take the time and effort.

Listen – Showing your team respect by listening to them builds up their confidence by demonstrating that their feedback and ideas have value. Great leaders will often kick this practice into a higher gear by asking questions that give the employee further validation that their feedback is of value and helps the leader bring more depth to the conversation.

Care about their career – Employees work best when they care about their work. Great leaders nurture this feeling by working with the employee to better their career. Whether that is giving them the exposure and skills to be promoted or to make a lateral move into another area that they are interested in. The employee will give more when they feel that they are getting something out of it, and it is yet another way for the great leader to practice empathy and build trust.

Expect the best and support it – Great leaders create a culture of excellence by pushing their team to be their best and not tolerating less. This doesn’t mean that they are aggressive or rude, it’s just that they set the bar high and TRUST and EMPOWER the team members to meet that expectation. They are partners with the employee in making sure they can bring their best to every task.

The quality of a staff is the best reflection on the quality of the leader. Working through your people is key to your success in leadership. The extent to which you are successful in bringing out their best will determine whether you are a true leader, or a leader in title only.



The Top 10 Reasons Performance Reviews Don't Work

"The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism." ~Norman Peale

"How you measure the performance of your managers directly affects the way they act." ~Gustave Flaubert

Performance reviews are among the most nerve-racking and uncomfortable exchanges in most organizations. Even when they are all positive and “fluffy” they are still terribly awkward for both parties. And this is the crux of where mistakes get made.

Because performance reviews are uncomfortable and awkward, they are susceptible to mistakes that increase awkwardness and ineffectiveness from people who usually wouldn’t find themselves making those mistakes. Given enough mistakes it can render this vital exercise a liability to the performance of the employee instead of an asset. Below is the list of the 10 biggest mistakes leaders make when conducting performance review. Look to avoid these the next time you are due to give a review:

Not doing them – The first mistake organizations and leaders make is not having a performance review at all. Because performance reviews are uncomfortable, many organizations and leaders avoid them entirely. This misses one of the best opportunities to improve performance and develop employees. When considering this I always keep in mind that most things that really improve operations take a lot of effort, performance reviews are no different. They open the dialogue between employees and management and set a baseline for performance expectations. If you’re concerned about conducting them, just look at the remainder of this list and you’ll be warned against the worst mistakes.

Too vague – Have you ever received feedback from a boss like, “I need you to be better at _____?” Of course you have. Did you get better? Well it depends on what “better” meant, and that’s the problem. If you want to affect behavior and performance you need to get specific. You need to have specific things that employee did right, you need specific things that the employee did wrong, and you need hyper specific goals. If you get all of these things ready ahead of time it is much easier to discuss them.

Everything is great until it’s not – Too many times performance reviews are little “love fests” where everyone is told that they are doing great in all areas, and are rated “Meets Expectations” and “Exceeds Expectations” on all of the bubbles on the form. Yet two months later, all of a sudden the employee finds themselves midway through the progressive discipline process and facing being let go. The time to address these issues was two-months ago and the leader did their employee a horrible disservice by avoiding the topic and being forced to address it through another mechanism that uses the poorest forms of motivation.

“Recency” – Many performance reviews are biased towards things that happened most recently. If it’s a quarterly review, they are focused on what happened in the last month. If it’s a weekly one-on-one it might be biased towards what happened today or yesterday. This myopic point of view wastes all of the learning that could take place by looking at the past performance and reviewing it. Part of the reason this occurs is a lack of preparedness on the part of the leader, who doesn’t spend the extra time to look into issues that aren’t “off the top of their head” and requires them to look into past e-mails, projects, calendars, etc. If you do your homework and prepare, this phenomenon disappears.

Overly negative or positive – There needs to be balance for the message to get across, regardless of whether the employee is exceeding expectations or is falling short. Every employee has strengths and weaknesses that can be called out, only by addressing both will you get maximum productivity out of them. In an effort to make their point about negative matters, many leaders will focus on the negative and drive it home with more negative. On the flip side, the easiest thing to do is to talk solely about the positive, which lets the leader cruise through the review. Both tactics fail to properly leverage strengths to address weaknesses, which is one of the keys to moving performance forward.

No follow up – Your yearly performance review is done, so no need to worry about that for 12 months. Right? If there is no follow-up until well after the fact, then you’ve likely just wasted everyone’s time. When you hear about or see ineffective performance appraisal processes, this is likely one of the primary culprits. Even if the employee sets about to institute changes, they are likely to be somewhat ineffective given that they are not reinforced or constrained to what the leader requested.

No career development – One of the items chronically lacking from performance reviews is what the employee wants to do with their career. For the sake of the employee and the organization, one of the goals of a performance review should be to continue to develop their skills until they are ready to make greater and greater contributions to the organization. How will you know what those contributions are, and how to help get them there, if you don’t ask the employee?

No measurable goals – What does great performance look like? If there are no measurable and specifically quantifiable goals for the next review, how do you know they succeeded? And let me reiterate that we aren’t talking about goals of “better” we are talking about goals that are quantifiable in “black and white” that you can both review and both agree on next time. This is a common improvement that can be made to review programs.

Waiting for the performance review to give feedback – This is just lazy or fearful leadership. If you’re looking for excuses to not give feedback to your team, then you aren’t a remotely effective leader. Other than the obvious loss of time to improve, the other issue is that it undermines the power of the feedback. The employee will (rightfully) wonder, “If it was that important, why didn’t you mention it before.” This leaves the leader with lost performance because they didn’t address it until after the fact and undermined impact of the feedback to boot.

Not listening – Performance reviews should have a two-way street of dialogue. The employee should be allowed to explain their thought process behind their behavior and performance, as well as be able to ask clarifying questions. Great leaders foster this dialogue so that they can get the maximum amount of coaching into the session as possible. There is no reason that the dialogue shouldn’t be split 50/50 during the review as both parties look to learn and clarify.

Most people who have been in the workforce for more than a few years have run into the performance review process, and sadly, can relate to most of the mistakes listed above.

Make no mistake, conducting a performance review takes a lot of work on the part of the leader. But if you put in that work, prepare the right way, are mindful of the mistakes above, and put more work in after the fact, the performance review can be the crown jewel of your leadership skills.